On Hai-iro no Diet Coca Cola (Gray Diet Coke)

pukeboy
The cover.

Remember Faust? I don’t mean that old, thick, boring brick by Goethe, though. In the late 2000s, a publisher called Del Rey, which was considered the embassador of Koudansha in America (sorta) put out these two volumes consisting mainly of short stories, titled Faust. They were the English incarnation of a Japanese periodical with cutting-edge nerdy fiction started by Oota Katsushi, the legendary editor and founder of Seikaisha. After a short while, Del Rey disappeared without warning or announcement, leaving several manga series in English unfinished. Some worthwhile novels were announced, but never saw the light of day, too – to this day some sources claim Kara no Kyoukai came out in English when it didn’t. The whole mess must have had something to do with Koudansha publishing their stuff without any intermediaries nowadays.

Anyway, one of the authors who were lucky enough to land in English Faust was Satou Yuuya, whose Dendera I’ve written about a few months ago. In one of those two books you can read Gray Diet Coke, a short story of his titled after a piece by an edgy writer called Nakagami Kenji. That story was later developed into a novel – some call it a story collection, since Satou wrote three more segments to follow up on the original Gray Diet Coke and together with some illustrations by Oshimi Shuuzou (they couldn’t have chosen a more adequate person), they formed this neat little paperback – the 2013 reedition by Seikaisha. The novel is what this post is going to be about. As a fan of Faust, I bought this bad boy to see if it’s any good and share my impressions with the world.

Before anything else, a bit of history. Satou Yuuya was originally a part of the Faust crowd. That’s where he made his literary debut. The Kagami-ke Saga series and Gray Diet Coke are Early Satou. But soon after, he seemed to have fallen out of their favor. Some people seem to hate him, and after reading a tiny bit of his bibliography I have some understanding as to why that happened. He definitely isn’t as prodigious as, say, Nishio Ishin or Kadono Kouhei. Satou managed to change company – he does high literature nowadays. As seen in Dendera – that’s Late Satou.

Hai-iro Diet Coca Cola
What grim story is Gray Diet Coke then? First, we meet the unnamed protagonist (“Boku“) who lives in the boondocks of Hokkaido. He’s 19 and he’s a ball of negative emotions. He works a part-time job he doesn’t like, hangs out with his losery friends, contemplates the shittiness of his surroundings all the time, and avoids his parents since the mere sight of them causes homicidal rages in him… He hates himself and everybody around as ignorant, indifferent and devoid of ambition. Well, he was born into a flat landscape and a folk drifting through life uninterestedly. Maybe it was inevitable that he ended up like that. Why is he like that? Was he simply born a contrarian and decided that whatever’s his is bad and he’s drawn to the antithesis of what he inherited?

We’re getting the answer to that question in small doses, but the first one was hella potent. It’s a memory of his grandpa telling the protag’s six year-old self about how he killed two people. Do you own those two volumes of Faust? Dig them out of the closet and give Gray Diet Coke a read. You know, when I was a college kid and bought Faust during summer vacations, the original Gray Diet Coke didn’t make much of an impression on me. Maybe it was a case of missing an impressive-looking tree because it’s standing in a damn forest. After all, Faust could just as well be titled “Nerds Being Sad”. It’s a gathering of stories similar to each other. Suicide. Communication disorder. Death. Teenagers. Angst. Those might be among the biggest words in the Faust Tag Cloud. Or maybe it was the translation. Anyway, although the story began as mildly interesting ranting, the bit with Grandpa brazenly telling the story of an ugly, brutal murder he once committed, in his hoodlummy idiolect (starting sentences with でだ got me for some reason), was a masterpiece. Out of nowhere, it had me glued to the page, wanting to read that shit out loud. Have you read Dendera? Whatever you say about that book, it was very well written. You can see this familiar spark of genius in this bit as well. That’s how we learn that Grandpa was an ubermensch, a Haou (覇王) if you prefer using the novel’s nomenclature. Inhumanly strong, endlessly confident, always victorious. He managed to make the entire town revolve around himself with his merciless ways. To hell with ethics. And the antithesis of Haou is Niku no Katamari (肉のカタマリ), a hunk of meat – another new term that appears throughout the book. The world can be divided solely into these two kinds of people, and since the requirements to be a Ruler are very high, in practice it’s the norm to be Meat. Rulers are very rare, but Grandpa would like his grandson to be one of the chosen few. And so begins the story of the protag’s stressful struggle. Of despising everybody around as inferior, and of hating oneself for not living up to an overwrought ideal. That was real neat. Will the novel manage to best this firework before its last page?

The number two influence on the protag and his worldview, which is all this book is about, was Minami-kun, his peer and a fellow comrade on the path to greatness. Minami-kun didn’t take the struggle well, however. At 17 years old, he decided he failed at making a strong statement to the world and killed himself by self-immolation. Thereby, he gave the main character yet another reason to say “just you wait” to the world, to climb to the very top to torment the Hunks of Meat: it’s the small town deep into Hokkaido that killed Minami-kun. A deed begging for revenge.

Aka-iro no Moscow Mule
Influenced greatly by his giant of a Grandpa, the protag is desperately trying to become the Haou, whatever that means. In this chapter he’s 13 and on his road to greatness Minami-kun serves as his companion. The kid, who proves to be an insane cult leader type, feels an intense need to be different, but the environment doesn’t react in any way to his shenanigans. Inspired by the MC’s grandpa ruling over the town and teenage murderers he learned of from the TV, Minami-kun compiles a notebook containing a sinister Plan to punish the town for its indifference. His speech about wanting to cut up a pregnant woman to make a 人間テレビ is the highlight of this chapter, almost as good as Grandpa’s bit. There’s also arson and cutting dicks off a with a pair of scissors.

Kuro-iro no Pocari Sweat
If I were to choose the best one of this book’s four chapters, this one takes the cake. Boku is now six years old and his grandfather is still alive. An employee of Grandpa’s construction company contacts his boss to say his son was kidnapped for ransom… and so begins a fun mystery. Grandpa offers to pay the ransom in exchange for participating in the case together with the boy. The kidnappers behave rather amateurishly from the very beginning. They get a local yakuza clan involved in the affair for no reason. What if it’s a setup by the parents? A ploy to milk some money out of the town’s Ruler? Or maybe it’s the cruel Gramps, the bloodthirsty representative of the WW2 generation, who organized this detective show for his amusement at the cost of some random Hunks of Meat? I won’t spoil much, but the Haou lives up to his superhuman reputation and throws a monkey wrench in the bad guys’ plan. As for how the story ends: it’s a hell of a climax, once again. The abduction mystery was a story neatly connected to the book’s central question. Maybe the rat race towards becoming the unfeeling Ruler who smacks Hunks of Meat around, the Battle Royale-style dichotomy claiming there are only winners and losers, the strong and the weak, isn’t a smart way to organize life in society. Maybe it only makes everybody miserable, both the rulers and the ruled. Impressive. The sad end to the story fails to convince the protag to change his way of thinking, however. Not yet.

Niji-iro no Diet Coca Cola Lemon
The longest, and least focused chapter. We’re back to the MC being 19 and the Haou is as strong as ever within him. The kid decides the time has come to make his decisive move and undisputedly become the Ruler. What does that mean and how to do it? He doesn’t know. He does move out of his parents’ house using most of his meager savings, gets a girlfriend, gets her pregnant… At the end of the story, Boku will get over himself and give up on becoming the Haou – a weakly defined, difficult to achieve title, but before he does, a long and harrowing journey awaits him. On the way, he’ll inevitably run out of money and have to start working with (and for) the Hunks of Meat he hates. To a large extent, it’s necessity that forced him to settle down, but the protag will need an extra punch to beat the delusions of grandeur out of his head. He’ll meet a bunch of people, each with their own outlook on the idea of the world consisting of the Ruler and the ruled. Like a terminally ill girl who flails between loving all of humanity to being a bitter shitgremlin. His girlfriend who begins as a solipsistic sociopath and mellows out after becoming a mother. His uncle, who refused to pursue the Way of the Ruler and yet unded up more successsful than the MC ever could. And a teenage boy who will most likely retrace the protag’s story of following the Way of the Ruler in the future. And then run away from it screaming. There will be bestiality, too.

Ah, Gray Diet Coke. That was an incredibly uneven novel. Bits of brilliance that were making me think “this might be my favorite thing ever” hidden in an ocean of blah. Most of the time, the book is kind of a chore to read. This autobiographical (?) novel is written in first person in spoken language, which might suggest it’s easy to read, but most of the time, in practice it’s not. And yet, in summary, it’s a well-rounded story with some very relatable, very current ideas to convey. A whole bunch of disgusting shit in service of some lofty ideals, like in Palahniuk. With themes like the desperate need to be superior, narcissism, people who participate in the Great Competition and those who don’t, and the selfdestructive pursuit of greatness, whatever it is, it’s a mighty Millenial kind of booklet. As an narrative entire devoted to contemplating a vision of the world, it has all of my respect. Faust delivers time after time, doesn’t it. I’m afraid it’s the last book by Satou Yuuya that I’m interested in, but I might reread the Faust anthologies themselves sometime. Or maybe even look into the original Japanese Faust mooks…

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